Haiti Earthquake Disaster

SUBHEAD: The earthquake is a tragic setback for a long-awaited economic recovery that had appeared to show the first signs of taking root.

By Pooja Bhatia and John Lyonson 14 January 2010 in Wall Street Journal - 

Image above: Street on Port-au-Prince, Haiti, after 1/12/10 earthquake. From (http://www.examiner.com/x-12837-US-Headlines-Examiner~y2010m1d13-70-Haiti-earthquake-leaves-country-in-ruins)  
 Port-au-Prince, Haiti—Cries from victims entombed beneath concrete debris pierced the air of seemingly every street in this crowded capital Wednesday, where shocked residents carried the injured and the dead a day after the nation was hit by a quake that some estimate has killed more than 100,000 people. Haitians tried digging through rubble with their bare hands to rescue people trapped after the biggest earthquake to hit the impoverished Caribbean nation in two centuries. Thousands of buildings from shanties to the presidential palace were destroyed, streets were blocked by debris and telephone service was knocked out.

Countries around the world, meanwhile, scrambled to send in help. "Amwe! Amwe!"—"Help me!" in Creole—one woman called out amid the rubble of a primary school that collapsed in the Turgeau neighborhood. Florence Devereaux, a paraplegic often found sitting outside her house in the Bois Verna neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, pointed to a house next door that had collapsed, burying at least four children under rubble. "We heard them asking for water, asking to get them out. But we can't. We have no tools. Where are the rescue teams?" Many Haitians complained about the nonexistent rescue efforts from their own government and the apparently slow arrival of help from abroad, in particular the nearby U.S. "Who is in charge?"—Ki e ski responsab?—was a common question on the streets.

"A Chinese rescue team and two rescue teams from the U.S. should have arrived this evening," United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told reporters. He said the U.N. would coordinate the rescue effort of teams from various nations that will be arriving in coming days. France, Dominican Republic, Guadeloupe and other nations were also sending help to the Haitian capital, U.N. officials said.

The government of Mexico, which regularly suffers from earthquakes, said it sent a team of specialists with trained dogs to help look for survivors. For many Haitians, help was already too late. "It's a horror show," said John Burns, an American agricultural consultant who drove a four-wheel drive car around the city. "There are dead people all over the place, some covered, some uncovered." Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive told CNN and Reuters that the death toll could top 100,000. "I don't think that's an exaggeration," said Alice Blanchet, a special adviser to the Haitian prime minister who lives in Brooklyn. She said Haiti's Justice Minister Paul Denis was unaccounted for.

"I don't know of a single friend or family member of mine in Haiti who hasn't lost their home. They are all sleeping on the street. I have two cousins who are unaccounted for," she said, pausing for a moment. "I don't think I can understand what a big tragedy this is." Among those who lost their home was the Haitian President René Préval, who told CNN that he didn't yet know where he would spend the night. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton compared the earthquake tragedy with the Asian tsunami that killed more than 220,000 people five years ago.

"This will be a very high loss of life as well," said Mrs. Clinton, who said she is cutting short a trip to the Asia-Pacific to return to Washington to help oversee U.S. relief efforts. Matthew Marek, country director for the American Red Cross, said he expected a very high death toll. "This will make the hurricanes looks like child's play," he said, referring to a series of storms that swept through Haiti in 2008. Officials at the U.N, which had thousands of peacekeepers and other relief workers stationed in Haiti at the time of the quake, reported Wednesday that more than 150 workers remained missing in Port-au-Prince, including as many as 100 trapped in the rubble of its headquarters at the Christopher Hotel.

The mission's head, Hedi Annabi, also was feared dead. Brazil's army said at least 11 Brazilian members of the 9,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti were killed. Mr. Ban pledged to try to reconstruct the impoverished country's economy. The capital's Roman Catholic archbishop was killed, according to the Associated Press.

At a briefing on Haiti before the U.N. General Assembly Wednesday afternoon, former President Bill Clinton, the U.N.'s special envoy to Haiti, said the country's top relief priorities now are water, food, shelter and first-aid supplies. "That's what we need," he said. He urged people who would like to help to donate cash to relief organizations, and not supplies. Overnight on Wednesday, thousands of Haitians opted to stay outdoors rather than sleep in their homes for fear of more aftershocks.

A large Haitian diaspora in the U.S. and elsewhere frantically tried to reach loved ones. Monique Cenecharles, a Haitian expatriate in Montreal, was trying to get in touch with her husband, Nikenson, an engineer in Port-au-Prince. The two last spoke Tuesday evening over an instant-messaging service, just minutes before the earthquake hit. "He said he had to go to his English class," she said. "I said goodbye and I love you." Ms. Cenecharles hasn't been able to reach him since, either online, by phone or through relatives.

She says she is also searching for three aunts and two uncles in the capital city. Early Wednesday, she received a photo of an injured nephew in Port-au-Prince. "I am looking at the picture of my nephew laying down," she said. "He's cut deadly." She said she didn't know whether the nephew would receive medical attention. On a Facebook page called "Earthquake Haiti," hundreds of users searched for loved ones they couldn't reach in Port-au-Prince, posting photos and asking for information.

"Looking for Al and Ev Hromek," wrote Julie Thiessen. "They were at 33 Delmas Port-au-Prince." Survivors caked in white concrete dust walked the streets or huddled in small groups, dazed. Some had bright red marks from blood that stood out against the chalky powder on their skin.

Throughout the night following the quake and into the early hours of Wednesday, the rolling thunder of building collapses could be heard throughout the city. Aftershocks caused moments of renewed panic. As the bodies of the dead were being piled up on city streets, residents began worrying about how to survive the coming days. Outside the collapsed Twins Market on Avenue Jean Paul II, people carried five-gallon water containers, boxes of corn flakes, Coca-Cola, and other provisions. A man on the street yelled to this reporter: "Hey, foreigner. We're dying." Worries about looting or violence also grew after reports that Haiti's main prison had partially collapsed, allowing inmates to escape.

From hills around the city, once the proud seat of the world's first black republic, one could see a changed cityscape. The white domes of the National Palace had collapsed on the walls below, the roof and sides of the National Cathedral were gone, and, in the distance, the slum of Bel Air looked flattened. Citigroup Inc.'s three-story office building in Port-au-Prince was destroyed, and the New York company was trying to account for all of its 40 employees. In a country deeply divided between rich and poor, people at all socioeconomic levels suffered. Grand houses in bourgeois neighborhoods such as Pacot and Petionville were leveled. The capital's most prominent hotel, the Hotel Montana, was damaged, trapping scores of guests, according to eyewitnesses. Several hospitals were badly damaged. Medical aid group Doctors Without Borders said its three hospitals in Haiti were unusable.

Mr. Marek and other Red Cross members gave first aid to hundreds of injured residents of the shanty towns built into the hillside behind the Red Cross office. With only a few bottles of antiseptic, gauze and tape, he and several staff members attempted to treat deep wounds. Decades of urban migration into shoddily constructed, hillside slums render the city painfully vulnerable to disasters. The earthquake is a tragic setback for a long-awaited economic recovery that had appeared to show the first signs of taking root in the hemisphere's poorest nation, a place where eight in ten live in poverty and half live in extreme poverty.

"People were beginning to feel that if Haiti was going to have a chance, this was it," said Johanna Mendelson Forman, who follows Haiti at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C. "I hope now people will be more determined to do something."

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